The Invisible University for Ukraine (Part 1) : historical background

The Central European University (CEU), based in Vienna and Budapest, launched on 20 April 2022 its certificate programme for Ukrainian undergraduate (BA) and graduate (MA and doctoral) students, whose studies were affected by the war, whether still residing in Ukraine or in refuge. The program called Invisible University for Ukraine (IUFU) offers an intensive learning experience ‒ including lectures and mentoring ‒, placing questions relevant for Ukrainian students into a transnational comparative perspective in the field of humanities and social sciences.

The program does not replace or duplicate the existing online education in Ukrainian universities. According to its statement, IUFU prepares students “for deeper integration into the international academia and broad ongoing discussion on the role of Ukraine in changing European and global contexts”. For this purpose, a hybrid program – including online classes and a summer university, held for the first time in Budapest and Lviv between 10 and 19 July 2022 – is provided by CEU faculty members, Ukrainian and Polish partner institutions, as well as international partners (excluding Russian state institutions or anyone supportive of Russian aggression).

The IUFU defines itself as “transnational solidarity program”, built upon the legacy of underground and exile educational initiatives in Eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries and the tradition of Invisible Colleges formed after 1989 in the region.

Among Eastern European countries, Poland was particularly affected by the devastating efforts of foreign occupiers during the 19th century. The Polish intelligentsia fought to resist Russification and Germanification under foreign occupation and to keep Poland alive as a nation. To save the Polish culture from destruction, intellectuals have created informal education systems with secret libraries and underground classes. Among these initiatives the most famous was the Flying University, founded in Warsaw in 1882-1883 by the educator and women rights activist Jadwiga Szczawińska. Meeting weekly at different locations to avoid detection, four separate faculties were organized where courses were taught by radical professors. The Flying University awarded diplomas to its graduates among them the most famous was Marie Sklodowska-Curie. After 1906, the university was finally legalized. In 1918, it took the name of Free Polish University until it was disbanded in 1952.

After underground education during the resistance against Nazi Germans and Soviet occupants, flying universities had a renewal in Poland in the second half of the 1970s. Clandestine lectures were held in private apartments as well as in clerical centers and other community social centers, held by eminent Polish intellectuals to hundreds of students. While flying universities under the communist regime were supposed to be “unique in Eastern Europe”, members of the Hungarian opposition soon made contact with Polish underground education networks. Thus, the “Monday Free University” was organized in Hungary from 1978 on following the Polish model.

Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Invisible Colleges were established throughout the region, beginning in Hungary in 1992. Without having any facilities, they offered scholarships as well as mentoring and academic support for the most promising students at national institutions. In 1997, the Invisible College of Budapest won the Hannah Arendt Prize ‒ awarded since 1995 by the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna ‒ in recognition of “outstanding, self-initiated reform efforts in higher education and research” in the formerly Communist countries of Eastern Europe.

Veronika Durin-Hornyik PhD

Interviewed again for a French review

I would like to thank the French journalist Olivier Claudon for having interviewed me again about my research. His long report on the Collège de l’Europe libre (Free Europe College) appeared today in the special issue on the Cold War in Alsace of the French magazine Les Saisons d’Alsace.

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